It’s not just new pens that I covet. I really like a good notebook too.
Like a lot of people I use notebooks in meetings. And I make to-do lists, always lots of to-dos. But I sometimes make meeting notes and lists digitally, especially if I want to circulate them to other people. However, I haven’t given up the meeting notebook.
But it’s the research project notebook that I like most. For me, the notebook signifies research. No matter how many other gadgets I drag around – cameras, digital voice recorders, ipads, phones, laptops – the trusted notebook is still the research wardrobe essential. Have notebook, am dressed for any research occasion. You see, the notebook is the tool de jour of the ethnographer; most of us wouldn’t seen in public without one. The notebook is the LBD of the observant participant world (s).
There’s nothing quite like starting off a new research project in a new notebook. I love it. It always makes the project feel ‘real’. In front of my eyes the blank pages just waiting to be filled up with – well – things I don’t yet know about, things yet to occur, things I imagine might happen, and things that I couldn’t dream of. The notebook is a kind of material representation of all of these things yet to come.
Everybody has their own notebook type. I used to be quite fond of Moleskines with their super smooth paper and their super smooth ersatz leather covers. But they all looked the same. After completing a few years’ worth of projects and a few years’ worth of notebooks it took a lot of ineffectual searching and swearing and flicking through book after black-covered book to dig out the particular one that contained the field notes I was after. I did buy a red-covered one at one stage (and there are now other colours) – but when I was really seriously using them, the Moleskine options were largely black, black and black.I’ve switched my notebook allegiance now to a brand that has many different kinds of covers. Decomposition Books – they have idiosyncratic drawings inside and outside and they come in a range of colours. The paper is not so smooth. But it’s recycled, so there is a small, virtuous glow about not using up a new tree each time a new project starts. (Yes I know it takes a lot of energy to recycle paper, but I’ll be onto the first low-energy recycled notebook I can find, as long as I can differentiate the projects by different coloured or designed front covers.)
Occasionally people give me notebooks as presents. I do feel obliged to use them. I’ve had four different gifted notebooks for the four different summer schools that I’ve recently attended/been researching and I now find the mismatched set of them less than aesthetically pleasing. Different sizes. Odd shapes. I much prefer some regularity. I can however find which one I want straight away.
I don’t like to be caught a notebook short either. So I have a little stack of Decomposition Notebooks in reserve. I won’t ever be found wanting something to write on.
I suspect that I got this habit of stockpiling notebooks from my father who used to bring home stationery from work. Very naughty of him. But still, he’s not going to get done for it now if I tell the world. He used to bring home pencils and biros too, but they were never quite as desirable in my eyes as the blue-covered government-issue memo book.(And while I’m confessing his sins there was also loo paper – for a long time I thought everyone had loo paper with South Australian Government printed on it because my primary school had this too.)
I’m well and truly over the memo book now. A memo book isn’t really good for writing anything but shopping lists. While I like a good list, I generally have more to write than is easily accommodated by a memo-sized book. I prefer a good A4 myself. And that’s the other thing that Decomposition Books have over Moleskines – they’re bigger. They take longer to fill up. And they really aren’t any more difficult to carry around.
I’m just about to start three new research projects and I’ve already got the notebooks out and labeled. There are however a couple more speculative projects in the pipeline, and this presents a problem – do I start a new notebook for the preliminary meetings and risk it not ever being filled up if the project falls through? Or do I write early notes on paper knowing that I’ll then have to stick them in a new notebook if the project happens…
Decisions, decisions. Always with the notebook some little decision still to be made.